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REVIEW: When I Was a Child I Read Books by Marilynne Robinson

May 18, 2012

I HAVE TRIED TO AVOID talking about Marilynne Robinson’s Christianity, but it’s not going to work. To do that would be to pretend that her faith is not almost immediately encountered in When I Was a Child I Read Books — or her other books, for that matter — so acknowledging it is inevitable. Marilynne Robinson is a Christian. She is also a writer, and may perhaps be a “Christian Writer,” whatever that means.  But rest assured that she is not pictured smiling and looking dynamic on her dust jackets, and her writing bears no resemblance to thinly veiled self-help. Like the Bible, her work offers no assurances that Jesus wants you to be rich, quick or otherwise…

Read the full review at Fiction Advocate.

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Fiction Advocate of the Day

May 16, 2012

TODAY’S WINNER: The New Yorker.

Yesterday the magazine launched a new books blog called Page-Turner, billed as a place for “Criticism, contention, and conversation about books that matter.” Sasha Weiss elaborates on its mission:

We’ll debate about books under-noticed or too much noticed, and celebrate writers we’ve returned to again and again. We’ll look to works…Read more at Fiction Advocate.

Trade Paperbacks is Moving

April 27, 2012

THERE’S GOING TO BE SOME CHANGES AROUND HERE… 

After several minutes of negotiation, it was decided that rather than simply reposting each other all the time, Trade Paperbacks will become part of the site Fiction Advocate. Fiction Advocate has been around for a while longer than TPB, and will be a great place to get to more readers and, hopefully, give away more books.

You can read about the move here, but the basics are:

We’ve combined Fiction Advocate with Mike’s own site, Trade Paperbacks, so all the stuff you loved about Trade Paperbacks—the DFW minutia, the free books, the adorable guest posts—is here. Check out the Infinite Jest liveblog and the entire Trade Paperbacks card catalog using the links at the top.

And check out my first FA posts:

Fiction Advocate of the Day — in which Claire Needell Hollander, a reading enrichment teacher in the New York City Public Schools talks about the benefits, and difficulties, of bringing classic literature to our students.

What’s in Your Book Bag? — in which you get to select twelve books you would let strangers judge you by, and harshly evaluate the selections of others.

And finally, keep track of everything (and share it all) on our Facebook page and on via @TradePaperbacks and @FictionAdvocate.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll stay with us over at Fiction Advocate.

The Infinite Jest Liveblog: And But So Then?

April 21, 2012

This is the latest entry in Words, Words, Words the ongoing liveblog of David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest.” 

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April 21, 2012, pgs 958-981/1079. An AA story from someone it doesn’t appear we know takes up valuable pages in the few left before this whole thing comes to a close. No clues. No obvious ones anyway.

Then we get the story of the Middlesex A.D.A., who himself is a survivor, and whose wife has had a very hard time indeed after the Gately and co. toothbrush incident. Most importantly here, we learn that Gately is, legally at least, in the clear.

Then we are back at ETA, but not back inside Hal’s head. There are some indications as to what is happening in these pages at least. “Michael Pemulis was nowhere to be seen since early this A.M., at which time Anton Doucette said he’d seen Pemulis quote ‘lurking’ out by the West House dumpsters looking quote ‘anxiously depressed.'” Pemulis might have been searching for his discarded stash, but it’s hard to know for sure. Otis P. Lord returns briefly, but Poutrincourt is nowhere to be found. From the view overhead, Hal appears to be acting very strange: not eating his usual pre-match Snickers bar and asking Barry Loach (recently named the 10th best non-Hal or -Gately character in the book by Publishers Weekly) if “the pre-match locker room ever gave him a weird feeling, occluded, electric, as if all this had been done and said so many times before it made you feel it was recorded…[something about Fourier Transforms]…locked down and stored and call-uppable for rebroadcast at specified times.” This is similar to the feelings Hal had earlier, about how many times he had performed certain actions. Also like before, “[Hal’s] face today had assumed various expressions ranging from distended hilarity to scrunched grimace, expressions that seemed unconnected to anything that was going on.” And then five-and-a-half pages about Loach’s story and his salvation by Mario Incandenza.

After a long absence, we’re back with Orin, who, like the unfortunate roaches in his apartment from ~900 pages ago, is trapped under what appears to be a giant drinking glass. He’s been drugged and seems to have broken his good foot trying to kick his way out, and he seems genuinely confused about the meaning of the repeating announcement of “Where Is The Master Buried.” I always assumed Orin was the keeper of the Master, but this throws some doubt on that assumption. Speaking of roaches, a vent opens and begins to pour them into the enclosure, a la “1984.” Orin responds in kind, crying out “Do it to her! Do it to her!” Luria P—– is unamused, thinking of her fellow torturer as “a ham.”

Gately’s situation is not improving. His fever delirium has him half aware or less of what’s happening around him, though he knows that he is “the object of much bedside industry.” He hears his own head voice, with an echo, advise him to “never try and pull a weight that exceeds you,” and thinks to himself that he might die. The A.D.A. appears to be in the vicinity, no doubt struggling with the issues he discussed with Pat M. just a few pages ago. A voice at the door “laughed and told somebody else it was getting harder these days to tell the homosexuals from the people who beat up homosexuals.” It’s unclear if that has any relevance, except by a very circuitous inference that his hospital stay has revealed that Gately has AIDS and that  AIDS is still considered a “homosexual” ailment in Wallace’s near-future. Not terribly likely. It appears that the dangerously feverish Gately is lifted into an ice bath, an experience that causes him to “wake up” back on the cold, piss-stained floor with Fackleman and Mt. Dilaudid.

The situation here is not improving either. A motley and highly unpleasant crew of people make their way into the luxury apartment, led by the always unwelcome Bobby C. Everyone starts ingesting extraordinary amounts of substances, aside from those people who are occupied with things like injecting other people with drugs or sewing Fackleman’s eyelids open. Bobby C has a recording of Linda McCartney’s isolated vocals that he apparently loves, which, I mean really, the guy is just rotten to the core. And yet, he is gentle with Gately as they inject him with liquid sunshine and his senses inflame and he begins to tumble to the ground.  The endnotes here contain more than one reference to missiles. For Gately, the experience on the whole is “obscenely pleasant.”

And when he came back to, he was flat on his back on the beach in the freezing sand, and it was raining out of a low sky, and the tide was way out.

Before you get angry, at least consider that, for what it’s worth, the imagery here has Gately out of the water and into the cold — contrary to the warm, liquid womb-type imagery from before when he was on drugs.

Now you can feel free to embrace your frustration, and Google “What happened at the end of Infinite Jest,” and head back to the front of the book. If you’ve enjoyed yourself so far, though, take heart. You’re just getting started.

Read the full Infinite Jest Liveblog

For the Smell of It

April 17, 2012

Another reason why the real thing is better: Old books release what are known as volatile organic compounds that result in the smell of the pages.

The lead scientist described the smell as ‘A combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness.’


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E-readers also contain VOCs, but not many that you really want anywhere near your nose, or for that matter, your nervous system.

Read more here.

The Infinite Jest Liveblog: Byzantine Pornography

April 14, 2012

This is the latest entry in Words, Words, Words the ongoing liveblog of David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest.” 

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April 14, 2012, pgs 934-958/1078-1079. A brief moment in which Joelle van Dyne is picked up by Hugh/Helen Steeply pulls us out of Gately’s fever memories. But we’re quickly back in, as Gately and Fackleman descend further into their binge, watching JOI’s Kinds of Light, pissing themselves and being just all around pretty disgusting. Even still, rolling M&Ms through urine, then actually shooting up with urine instead of water is arguably less disgusting than Pamela Hoffman-Jeep’s “standard anti-hangover breakfast” the Phillips Screwdriver made of vodka and Milk of Magnesia. It’s accurately described by Gately as a “lowball.” Within the space of a few pages we catch a few missile references: “he [Gately] might as well have been strapped to the snout of a missile” and “it became the ICBM of binges,” indicating that there may be some “Gravity’s Rainbow” overtones here. A later reference, during Hal’s section, to a “sad and beautiful Aryan-looking boy” adds to the presence of GR in these pages. As things get worse and worse for Gately and Fackleman (who has now shit his pants), Gately reverts more and more to his childhood of the breathing ceiling and the bars of his playpen.

We now appear to be alternating between Gately and Hal and Joelle, who is now describing The Entertainment — and the location of the master cartridge — under USOUS questioning. Just as it is for USOUS, this interview is evidence for us readers to help piece together exactly what the hell is happening.

Hal returns to his room to find Coyle and Mario and some developments in the events around ETA. Apparently Lateral Alice Moore arranged the switch for Axford and Troeltsch, and I suspect there’s not much more to this seemingly significant and perhaps light-shedding turn of events than to embed and heighten in us as readers Hal’s feeling “that something as major as a midterm room-switch could have taken place without my knowing anything about it filled me with dread.” Which is pretty goddam brilliant of old DFW. Coyle tells Hal about Stice’s theory that a ghost is haunting him to raise his game, and Hal futher theorizes “Or hurt somebody else’s.”

Coyle is watching JOI’s Accomplice! which again sparks Hal’s interest in his father’s intentions.  Accomplice! appears to be another odd JOI joint, focused on a meta-watching experience. Hal mentions “a self-conscious footnote” and explains that the film’s “essential project remains abstract and self-reflexive; we end up feeling and thinking not about the characters but about the cartridge itself.” Its star, Cosgrove Watt, is first spotted by JOI in a commercial wearing a white toupee, just like JOI Sr. wore and just like Lenz wears. Graduate students start your engines on that one. Speaking of which, Hal watching the reports of snow falling on various people and places across the area, and his calling up of the phrase “smiling mirthlessly,” brings to mind James Joyce and his story “The Dead.” I’ll go ahead and make too much of it by pointing out Hal’s observation that “I had never once ridden a snowmobile, skied, or skated: E.T.A. discouraged them. DeLint described winter sports as practically getting down on one knee and begging for an injury” (emphasis mine, since this basically what happens at the end of “The Dead,” except with love and not with winter sports).

Hal begins to reminisce. The poster he remembers of Lang directing Metropolis is, presumably, the one Wallace wanted to use as the cover of the book. He remembers seeing a knife stuck in a mirror, though not the word KNIFE written on a non-public mirror. Hal’s impression of the Byzantine erotica he was once interested in feels like the organizing idea for all of IJ: “Something about the stiff and dismantled quality of maniera greca porn: people broken into pieces and trying to join, etc.” He realizes he doesn’t want to play anymore, and thinks about injuring himself to avoid ever playing again and “becoming the object of compassionate sorrow rather than disappointed sorrow.” It’s another moment in this book that is harder to read knowing the author’s fate. Hal recalls a sad moment involving Himself, Orin and pornography’s impoverished idea of sex, and he thinks about his mom. He knows about John Wayne, as well as a long list of others including Marlon Bain. He pictures Wayne and his mom in what is presumably a posture of the Byzantine porn.

Joelle comes back to “the House” to find a Middlesex County Sheriff’s car sitting outside.

Read the full Infinite Jest Liveblog

What Do the Stories Look Like?

April 11, 2012

Chip Kidd, the world’s first famous book designer. Enjoy:

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